Roblox is approaching 350 million monthly active users. It’s a platform that generated $3.3 billion in bookings last year and paid $740 million to its developers and creators. The low barriers to entry for developers and immediate access to an audience of 350 million players has made it an appealing proposition for indie developers. 

According to Roblox’s most recent estimate, however, there are over 5 million developers on Roblox, which makes it incredibly competitive and difficult to stand out. Furthermore, the nuanced player expectations have left many professional developers scratching their heads wondering why their Candy Crush-inspired game mechanics never gained traction. 

Today, host David Taylor sits down with Janzen Madsen (aka Jandel) and Nathan Clemens (aka UndoneBuilder) to share their learnings from 8+ years developing successful games on Roblox. Janzen is the creator of breakout hits such as a dusty tripField Trip ZWacky Wizards, and Gunfight Arena, which collectively have 100,000 concurrent players at the time of this recording. If Janzen were a game, he would be the 8th most popular game on Steam right now. Nathan has launched 24 Roblox games including The Survival GameCity Life, and War Simulator, which have garnered over 850 million play sessions. 

These two understand the Roblox meta better than anyone else, so this is an episode you certainly won't want to miss.

This episode is brought to you by CleverTap Gaming, the all-in-one platform for creating personalized player experiences. Visit for more details. 

This transcript is machine-generated, and we apologize for any errors.

David: Welcome to the Naavik Gaming Podcast. I'm your host, David Taylor, and today we're gonna be talking about Roblox. Roblox is approaching 350 million monthly active users, making it bigger than Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch combined. It's a platform that generated 3 billion in bookings last year and paid 740 million to its developers and creators. The low barriers to entry for developers and immediate access to an audience of 350 million players has made it an appealing proposition for indie developers. According to Roblox's most recent estimates, however, there are over 5 million developers on Roblox, making it incredibly competitive and difficult to stand out.

Furthermore, the nuanced player expectations have left many professional developers scratching their heads wondering why their candy crush inspired game mechanics never gained traction. Janzen Madsen, aka Jandell, and Nathan Clemens, aka UndoneBuilder, are with us today to share their learnings from 8 plus years developing successful Roblox games.

Janzen is the creator of breakout hits such as A Dusty Trip, Wield Trip Z, Wacky Wizards, and Gunfight Arena. Which collectively have 100, 000 concurrent players at the time of this podcast. If Janssen were a game, he would be the 8th most popular game on Steam right now. Nathan has launched 24 Roblox games, including the Survival game, City Life, and War Simulator, which have garnered over 850 million play sessions.

These two know the ROBLOX meta better than anyone else, so I'm excited to see what insights we can glean as we look for success on the most competitive platform in games, ROBLOX. Welcome Nathan, welcome Janzen, excited to have you guys here. I was wondering if you guys could just give us a quick background on your Roblox history.

Starting from, when you first started to develop games and into sort of these breakout successes that you've had over the years. Let's start with Nathan.

Nathan: Fair enough. Yeah. So I used to do construction probably about a decade ago renovation and construction. And part of that was. I would do 3D models, so I'd mock up how a building might look, or a renovation might turn out, usually like Google SketchUp or CAD.

And I realized, hey, I could probably sell this online, to sell my skills as a freelancer. So I found Roblox, and there were people here willing to pay me to build things, so I did. And then after a couple months of doing that, I went, they have money? Where did they get their money? They make games?

I could do that. I just hopped into a studio and did my best and Probably took me about two years before I had my first big successful game But then I just cut out the metal man and began making them myself directly And I don't think i've ever stopped since then

Janzen: Amazing. Yeah, I guess uh But yeah, I just saw Roblox at a party.

I was like, I think I was like 19 at the time and some people were playing Roblox and I thought it was hilarious. So I I downloaded Roblox the next day and I just made a game and I guess I got lucky. It was like my biggest game for like three years. Took me like two weeks to make. And then. Yeah, I guess like three years ago, why not?

Three years after that, I started like getting more serious with developing games and made Field Trip Z, which was my first big hit, and yeah, much the same as Nathan basically been doing it ever since, yeah. Why stop? Exactly.

David: Awesome we're gonna get to I have some questions about You guys looking into the future what you're thinking about.

But for now, I just wanted to reflect on that time. Like, As you look, think about the past past few years, like what's the coolest thing that you've done on Roblox? It could be the thing you're most proud of, or the most wacky thing that you've done. Just curious, because I know this is such a wild platform.

Janzen: Sure. I think that my, my biggest achievement, and this may be like, cliche, but I think it's amazing. The like, impact Roblox has had like, not only on my life, but, like, all of the people that work with me's life, right? One of my great partners at the company like, immigrated to New Zealand and like, moved his family here.

And I've had like, people that work with us buy homes and support their families. And for me it it's surreal, actually, that happens. Yeah, I think that's like my biggest achievement with Roblox is that. I know it sounds cringe and cliche, but yeah, it's the thing that kind of drives me, at this point.

Nathan: Yeah. Yeah, no, not at all. Mine's very similar, which is that it's helped me fund quite a lot of money towards charity and quite a few, we've housed quite a few people that way. It's not cliche at all. That's what makes this worth doing is how it continually impacts so many lives.

David: Yeah, I think so. That's amazing.

It's awesome to hear you both taking that altruistic approach. I myself have found that I'm a lot more motivated to work when I'm doing it for others rather than just myself. Really cool to hear that coming through.

Janzen: Hey, don't get it wrong.I like in the money too.

David: Yes, we love money.

And That is why we're going to start off the conversation about the Roblox meta, right? What is the keys to success on the platform? How have you guys managed to be successful time in, time out? I think, Jensen, you said, I got lucky, but when we look at your track record, I don't think we can say at this point that it was all luck.

You've been able to recreate success numerous times over, as have you, Nathan. So really want to dig into just like taking it step by step of what is your guys process? What do you understand about the Roblox platform today that's enabled you to have so much success when most people who come to the platform are unable to achieve that success?

So let's start with game design. Could you, each of you take us through your creative process? In terms of coming up with ideas, because you both have a wide range of games. So Nathan, why don't you kick us off?

Nathan: Yeah, that is the 700 million question is on how to be successful.

But we love money. See what I'm saying? They didn't do money. Yes, I'd say. My process usually is I will have an idea of some kind usually based around, I'll see a feature in some other game or some concepts that I've seen around, and I will usually put that on a shelf I've got like a backlog of probably 200 ideas or so that I then slowly over years refine more and more until it's to the point where I'm like, This is now a game I think will do really well.

Like I'll say, Let's Survival Game, one of my most recently successful games. That was, I was probably noodling on or refining for upwards. three years after I had seen like an original mechanic from like an old game where I'm like, I could, that's an interesting idea. And I just built off of that for years until I finally had a concept that I'm like that's a game.

Janzen: I think, yeah, I actually think my design path is like pretty similar to Nathan's. Like often, I'll have like a very broad idea and then, yeah, like Nathan said, I had like all these shelves of like different features and concepts from other games or even from my own brain that I just pull and use to create like a, like a Roblox experience.

Yeah. And game design is not like a one size shoe fits all, like everyone has their own. Way of doing it and it works for them. So I think like asking what's the secret sauce of robots game design is. Quite broad, but yeah, I think maybe a lot of games helps, I think if you've just made a lot of games and make things that you're interested in, I think eventually you'd find success, yeah.

Nathan: I think what, what makes this significant, makes this such a hard question to answer is it's a creative industry, very specifically, you cannot do what everyone else has done. Which, that's not the case for most industries, but here, you have to do something different. Which makes it hard to render advice on what someone else should do when the answer has to be well, not what I did.

David: Yeah. So so all right, so I get that you guys are noodling on this for a while But take us through the point where you're like, okay I'm going to dedicate resources to this because you both employ people you both work with contractors and full time employees. And so how do you know? You When it's time to actually, put resources behind it and, decide we're going to spend time on this versus any other idea that you have.

Janzen: I can say for me, I probably run the most inefficient company of all time. Like in fact, we just change projects every week. So the answer is I don't really know. And usually and this is a roundabout way of answering your question is the projects that we start working on and are fun to work on and just come together themselves.

I usually the projects succeed. In terms of like pooling resources, it's just it just happens. It's just a natural process of working in a creative industry, I think.

Nathan: Mine's almost the exact opposite of that, which I think is why Jendel is quite a bit more successful than I am. I have a much more top down approach.

When one project finishes, it's very clear when another one begins based on my personal feelings of what should or should not happen based on how a game performs or not. Usually the choice to start a new one is when I've decided another, an old one should be Left and the team assigned to a new project.

Janzen: Got it. You're better at this than I am. You're always better than mine. Dude, I'm riding down right now. Shit, maybe I should do that.

David: So, Nathan, since you have a refined process, maybe more towards you, like, when you what are you looking at when you've decided that it's time to move on from an existing project or that an idea that you've been noodling on is ready for, for those resources?

Nathan: I'd say it definitely comes down to Two factors, either the game that was previously being worked on has kind of gotten to the point where it's no longer profitable to have a team on it.

Every game has a lifespan. I think that sometimes gets lost to developers that like, they feel like they should invent a game that will survive forever, but that is not how anything works. Um,

David: How many concurrent players if you're looking at a game, it drops below what number is it that you're like this probably

Nathan: It's not usually a number of players as much as much as this how much money it makes because I will say my most success, like some of my most profitable games have less than 10 percent of some other games and make the same amount of money.

It's much more, hey, is this game paying for the team? Is it worth it? Eventually a game hits a point where, hey, you're spending more money to update it than the game can bring back yet. And at that point. It's kind of a no brainer that you should work on something else. I'd say when I know a project is ready is not so much that I like have a feeling like I go this project's perfect.

It's more so one project finishes and I go, oh okay, it's time to start another. Let me look at my list. I feel pretty confident about these five. Let me look at each of these. Okay, I think I want to go with that one. This one feels good for the market right now. Now I'm going to really refine it into the final concept that's going to be And then obviously that's delusional throughout the process of making it.

It becomes something completely different, but That's usually how I decide. This one's ready.

David: Awesome. Okay, so thank you so much for that. And let's go to the next phase, right? You've decided we're gonna, we're gonna do this thing. Sounds like you guys are gonna have different approaches to this, which is great.

I love hearing, the different approaches. So when you're assembling your team, like what does the team look like exactly? You first, Jensen.

Janzen: You know what I, I'm very like lucky, like of Roblox, right? I think the people I work with are like truly some of the best on the platform and I think a lot of these people could make their own games and they could do very well.

So yeah, I just have a, I just have four or five people that I work with all the time, and these people are like highly specialized, can do like anything on the platform to probably the highest standard. So yeah, I'm very lucky. I don't, I often. Usually reach out for more team members.

Once we've already created a game and we're doing like live ops, comping cadence, like the dusty trip, we've hired like a lot of people that we haven't worked with before. So like do random events and wacky wizards. It was the same. Like I built that with Matt and it was doing well with me and him.

And then we're like, holy moly, we need to hire some people. And so we did. Yeah. So that's the approach I take at least. Yeah.

David: I just wouldn't follow up question for Jen's and what's the biggest team that you've ended up assembling for a game?

Janzen: In live ops? In live, probably dusty trip.

It's probably like close to 20 to maybe 30 people. Wow. Yeah, I mean there's a lot going on that game like half the code base is in russian. I'm not even joking. So Yeah, there's a lot going on and there's a lot of refactoring anytime we want to add a feature it's like the worst back end you could probably ever work with.

Yeah, and how are you finding these developers connections? I suppose yeah, usually just either they reach out to me ask me if I need any scripting work or You If people I've worked with in the past, like a few years ago, or I just ask a friend and they know someone looking for work. Nathan, how about you?

Nathan: You are right. We've had about polar opposite experiences. Unfortunately, I've had the exact opposite where most of the people I've tried to work with long term turned out to be very poor, uh, coworkers would probably be the best way to put it. So I've had a lot of games that have died very tragic deaths where they just can't be maintained because the other person is just run off or something along those lines.

My company is now made up of a much more division based, I have very specific teams I've put together, I've assigned, mostly on the programming side, anything on the modeling, UI, UX, animation side, I had a floating team made up of predominantly myself. And then a handful of artists I've like, hand trained to like, jump from project to project, but on the coding end, they're very specifically assigned coders and programmers who I've put together, and they're specific teams who maintain the projects and move from project to project together.

Janzen: Shoun, did you have anything to add? Yeah, I think that's a, I think that's a good infrastructure approach to, to game design. I think that makes sense for probably 99 percent of people. Yours is still better. Yeah, I think like for us, like we've purposely designed our company, like there's engineering companies, and the engineering folks, people focus on hiring good engineers and retaining good engineers. And for us, like our company is like a game design company, right? So our focus is less like how much money we can make was more like, Oh how do we like enable like people to be as creative as possible?

Because we're like a game design company. Yeah. So I guess yeah, for us, we just like try to create an environment where people can just like create cool things.

David: Yeah, makes sense. And I think that's one of the things that makes Roblox so unique is just the ability to have People who can do several different roles at the same time, you can do game design You can do scripting and even do art there are people who have all of those skills and a Roblox platform sort of makes it possible or You to have those skills.

Janzen: You gotta stop saying that I'm better than you Nathan, by the way Like you're literally like objectively true by every metric. I don't This is not an negotiable, But objectively, right? You're like one of the most successful robots developers, and you're in a very small niche that has like, successful projects.

True! And you're in objectively even more successful by three margins! Please. Your approach to things is actually really intelligent, it's thought out, it's analytical. I don't think you should discredit what you're saying seriously. Like You actually have a lot of value to add. I think the stuff you're saying is like very important.

Like and even though you're saying like, the actual reality of like the infrastructure of our company is quite similar to yours. I think you should stop like dissing yourself. Like seriously, like you're a really great developer.

David: Yeah, I think we're gonna have to include this on the podcast because I think it is, it's actually, What, like it's actually representative.

What I actually really appreciate about the Roblox ecosystem is everyone is extremely supportive of one another. You have people who have had wild success, made millions of dollars, and are just still in awe of one another. And I think that's really unique about. The Roblox space where in other places like the tech industry or even game development more broadly like people who have success become wanting to close themselves off to everyone else and feel like they have something that people want from them.

And I've just found the Roblox ecosystem to be the opposite of that. People who have success want to give back. And I think, it's great that you guys are organically embodying that as we speak.

Janzen: I'm going to swap it up now. I'm just going to say, yeah, we're enemies now, right? For the next 20 minutes.

Yeah. Sorry, Nathan, your approach is wrong. Yeah. I don't know what that guy's doing over there.

David: A question. All righty. Let's move on to sort of the marketing and community side of things is like you've designed this game. What is the next step? Like, how do you get people into it to start trying?

And I know that there's a whole Roblox discovery algorithm angle that I think our listeners would love to better understand. So if you could touch on. How you consider the Roblox algorithm and what your marketing activities do to drive that.

Nathan: This is probably my weakest point.

So Janzen, maybe you should let's.

Janzen: I think marketing used to be a lot more important on Roblox. And I think the algorithm today is, it's changing rapidly. And I could give you advice now that's not relevant in two weeks. But I think Roblox will always serve good games. So I think, so Steam's a really interesting platform to look at, right?

There's games on Steam that are like perfect for me that I discovered like three years after they released, right? I think Roblox, discoverability on Roblox, like if you have a good game, Like you always find an audience and I think that's like the biggest value proposition of Roblox. Like the algorithm's changing a lot and it is hard to get games surfaced.

But if your game's good, it will a hundred percent. Like I, I had games that get, 50, 000 concurrents So you probably never even heard of. And I've done no marketing on them. They just like found an audience. So I think Roblox, that's like the biggest belly prop, right? So yeah, I think there's no secret sauce to marketing.

It's just making a good game.

Nathan: I'm in full agreement. I feel like by far, Roblox is really good. That's certainly in comparison to any other platform about just, if you're making a quality product, there's a pretty good chance you'll be able to find a market. Now with good marketing, you can find a bigger market sometimes.

I'd say there are exceptions to that, but they are rare if you are trying to serve a very niche specific audience, sometimes Roblox can have a hard time getting that in front of that specific audience that you're probably going to need to do more legwork for. Hey, I very specifically have a game that appeals to like, People who like, train so much that like, the individual things are modeled very specifically.

Like, Yeah, that's a valid game design, but you're probably gonna have to put more legwork into getting that in front of people as opposed to probably the more profitable way to make a game is a game anyone can enjoy. I'll often be asked by investors or, consulting firms who are like, What what is the difference between aging up a game what makes a game more fun for one audience versus another?

And my answer to them is probably the same one here, which is, If it's fun for one person generally, if you're designing the game It's fun for every age. Candy Crush is fun to a 12 year old as much as it is to a 40 year old. It's not, fun isn't age or demographic based for most things. Unless you're just deciding something you know is going to be niche, Roblox usually is pretty good about it.

David: I think the folks at AVK might disagree with you on the demographics bit. But I'm curious, like, are you guys saying you don't do any marketing?

Janzen: Dendo? I think probably Nathan is in a similar position. I think we probably have naturally a lot of fans that will play our games, but I think if you're marketing your game at Roblox, you're already off to a bad start, that's my life. If you have to market your game to get in front of people the game's gonna well, 100%. Yeah, 100%.

Nathan: I was just gonna say, I sometimes market when I'm, like, very first launching a game, and I'm like, Hey, I wanna give this. I market to get it in front of people to start with, and then let Roblox do the rest.

I don't market with the goal that Hey, this marketing is going to make the game take off. I don't think, I think Jens is right. That is shit. The game's gonna fail. You've, I do some marketing for like, Hey, I'm getting this in front of people. 10, 000 people so that then Roblox can then show it to more people.

And if that doesn't make it take off.

David: Okay. So when you're doing that for, I'm glad we got there finally. So like when you're doing that marketing, that initial marketing are you using YouTubers? What are your levers for getting that initiative? I've tried so hard.

Nathan: Honestly, at least for me, and I think this is something Janzen does infinitely better than me, is like, relationships with influencers and stuff like that.

That is something I personally have just failed miserably at. Not so much that I'm not friends with many of them, more that just, if every time I've gotten an influencer to make a video on one of my games that they didn't naturally decide to do themselves, It has done NOTHING to help the game. I don't know what it is, but they could highlight the coolest aspects about it, if they didn't naturally decide to make a video on it, it is USELESS.

They could have 10 million subscribers, I could pay them 5, 000, it won't matter. You'll get maybe a couple dozen people. But if they naturally decide they want to make the video, up by thousands. It's I don't understand it. It's an enigma through and through, but yeah. So how do you get them to do it organically?

You just let them find it. There's no other way I've ever found. They just have to see the game naturally, either by a fan's recommendation or by advertisement. I might poke one of them and say, hey, this is something you might enjoy. But, by and large, they just have to decide it for themselves, and there's no way around that.

Yeah, you make a good game. Sanson. Surprising.

I'm friends with a lot of YouTubers, but I never ask them to make videos. And I think Nathan's right, right? I think if you're asking them to make a video, they're probably shoehorning something.

Janzen: To the audience, it like doesn't fit super well. The organic engagement is probably the best engagement you can get across the board in any industry, right? So, Uh,

David: Do you guys think that that your reputations allow you to always be noticed by YouTubers without trying?

Nathan: No, absolutely not.

Not a single bit. When we, when I released a new game, I have tried, don't get me wrong, I have tried to like, build a community where I can turn over success into new projects, but with the exception of maybe one studio on all of Roblox, that is just not something you can do.

That's just not, it doesn't work.

David: I'm in the Simple Games Discord, and I see you guys cross marketing your games, so I know that you're doing it. I certainly tried. Yeah, but it just, that's not moving the needle for you.

Janzen: Nope, not even a little bit. No, yeah, I make games on alts all the time, and I still become successful.

Nathan: Yeah, I switch up groups, I've got a bunch of games I don't mention in Simple Games I swap it up with, for owned by different projects and stuff like that, that people wouldn't know is made by me.

David: And alright sounds like you're not using Discord for marketing. You're not using YouTube for marketing.

Janzen: You're just making games. For like initial games, sure. But like, if you have like an established game, then yeah, stuff becomes important, right?

Nathan: Yeah, Discord is super important for maintaining a game. Yeah. Useless for marketing.

David: Okay, so let's transition to sort of live ops. So we talked about your team size a bit.

Um how do you know, is it pretty obvious when you have a game that's, taking off or, I imagine sometimes you put a game out there and you need to refine it, you need to quickly iterate to make it better. And then it might take off once you find that sweet spot.

Is that right? And then the question being like, How do you know if something is worth continuing to refine, versus moving on to a different concept?

Nathan: I'd say for me, usually it's pretty apparent if by the end of the development cycle, when I'm like, this game is done, if it hasn't built some kind of audience by then, it's probably not going to work.

There's probably a fundamental flaw throughout the process of development, I am often just completely refining a game. I'm going like, hey, this original idea, I don't like that idea I had, this fits better over here, it's, I'm constantly refining it till I think it's fun. And if by the end of that it hasn't worked, it's probably not worth continuing to noodle on.

Janzen: At least for me. Yeah, I agree. I think Roblox, one of its like, biggest I mean I'm gonna use this word a million times, but value propositions, is that you can basically release a prototype. And if the theme and the gameplay is engaging, like people will play it, right? If you release your prototype and no one plays it, then just don't work on it.

To your point though dusty trips, a good example. Like I purchased dusty trip and it was on like four or 5, 000 players. And it was like a lot of fundamental flaws with the game in my opinion. So like I changed them and then like within two weeks, the game was at like 70, 80, 000 players. So yeah, that is a lot of the times that are like things that you could refine and change in games.

It do help push the needle, but. Yeah. The game was terrible and 000 players in it. You know what I mean? So it's like the game was terrible. There's no tutorial. The lobby system was like literally broken. And there's 5, 000 people in it. And you know why? Because ROBLOX is amazing and people will play like junk if it's like engaging and interesting.

So that and that's why yeah, if you have a game that you worked on, the six months and no one's playing it. Yeah, it's just the truth. Like you just ditch it. And I think that's what me and Nathan do really well.

David: Awesome. And so Jason, you just mentioned that you bought a dusty trip. So when this was, I imagine, are you looking at the top games and seeing which ones bubble up and then, asking yourself, can I make this game better?

Is that part of your approach to Some of the games that you built me.

Janzen: Yeah, I like don't like purchasing games. Actually. I like don't feel like a great sense of achievement from it because I like designing things And how Dusty Trip came about is they like reached out to me wanting to sell the game and I played it and I thought it was like a lot to improve.

So that's how that came about. I know that kind of doesn't really answer your question, but.

David: So it sounds like it's not usually how you do it. This one just serendipitously fell into your lap and you were like, okay, it has 4, 000 players in it and it's totally broken. If I fix it, it could be totally broken.

Janzen: Yeah, as big as it got I didn't think that, but yeah, sure, I like it. I mean, The game is good. Like, I'm not gonna like, rag on the previous developer. It was just a lot of I would say like, fundamental like, laws for a Roblox game. But I think we're holding it back.

David: It's a really it's a really unique game for the platform, honestly.

It's pretty cool to see that taking off, because I feel like it is don't see many other games that look that way. Aiden's looking at me like What do you mean, it's unique?

Janzen: Yeah, I was just about to disagree. I feel like it's the essence of a Roblox game. I think it's the quintessential example of a Roblox game.

And I think a lot of these developers that came to, come to Roblox miss what makes Roblox Roblox. And that's why Dusty Chips is such a popular game because it's quote unquote, different. But it's it's at it's essence, such a Roblox game.

David: But can you, alright, so learn me about about what makes this, the quintessential Roblox game.

Janzen: It's buggy, it's funny, it has physics random stuff happens, it's just like a Roblox game that's what it is, it's like, super gameplay focused like, um, you don't have like, any of this like, auxiliary junk storyline and stuff, it's just you can get in there, you play with your friends, it's social it just hits every mark that like, a Roblox game needs to be.

Nathan: Refined down to the absolute core elements that make a game fun, and nothing else.

David: Yeah. I think that's a great way to put it. Yeah, because you see, there's other games like tycoon games and simulator games and roleplay games and They all feel like they've removed all of the the gameplay parts And it's just the mechanics are just like right there in front of you.

Janzen: Yeah, and I think those games are interesting I'm gonna take a quote from on it who made the swim simulator Probably the best developed on the platform in terms of game designers. Those games are interesting because they're like a lineage of like game designed essentially, if you play the first simulator games on Roblox.

They feel very Roblox y and they are like weird and buggy and bulky but then over time, like the refinement of the genre has like created this like new niche of Roblox game this yeah, it's like interesting to look at those games, like the lineage of how that

David: Yeah, that's super cool.

One of the questions I have for you guys since we're on the topic, and we'll come back to LiveOps because I think I have a few more questions there, but like, how has the Roblox platform evolved during your eight plus years on the platform? Are there things that you have to do differently today that that weren't the case before?

Are there things you did, back in the day that are no longer relevant today?

Nathan: I’d say for me, fundamentally, it's been almost, I think, ten years now. I mean there has been a fundamental shift in and this is going to sound weird from an outside perspective, but there's been a shift in the quality expectations for GAN's release.

I will say, if I were to release the first game that I did really well with, that was like the second biggest on Roblox for a couple years, eight years ago, it wouldn't do well anymore because you'd need to put in more things. I'll say back then, my game was a tycoon. Essentially, it didn't even save.

Every time you rejoined the game, you had to start it from scratch. Saving wasn't even a concept back then. So now, if you were to make the same game, you would need to add saving. That's something essential to making the game fun. The core of the you're still releasing bare bones fun games is still here.

That has not changed. I will say it takes longer, it takes more, like I'll say my average development cycle is maybe three months for a game, whereas it used to be maybe a month and a half. It takes more effort than it used to. But I don't think the core of what makes things fun has ever changed.

It's just, there's more tools, so a little bit more than needs to go into it.

Janzen: Makes sense. James, anything on your end? What's changed over the last eight years? I mean, Yeah, , quality of games I still think that comparative to other platforms your time to market is still insanely short.

Yeah, I used to, I think that marketing used to matter a lot more. I, I think in 2020, 2021, I would say like the bread and butter of my Roblox career was basically like getting YouTubers to play my games. And that's what like, I did well. And that's why I succeeded. And that's changed now, right?

That's just so like non impactful. So I don't even talk to those people anymore. No, it's just a big thing. They're still all my friends, but it's just like, it's like, yeah like, uh, yeah. I think the impact on the games is like not as much as it used to be. Yeah. And yeah, like I said I think the lineage of like genres on Roblox is just interesting to follow, right?

You see like, Piggy is a good example, right? Piggy was like this horror game that came out an amazing game. But compared to like horror games now, like pretty low quality, right? So you see like the lineage of these new breakout genres come. And it itself has the fourth iteration of that.

Nathan: And it itself was like the fourth iteration.

Janzen: Yes, yeah. Yeah, and then you see like the quality of that genre get more and more complex. Which is why like when these new genres break out, they're often easy to replicate and quite easy to improve on.

David: As a and this sort of goes back to the LiveOps question.

It's If you have a game that's successful, you totally expect that someone's going to try to replicate it and do better, either, make it more complex, make it higher fidelity, improve a specific game mechanic. Is that something that you're worried about on your existing successful games?

Or are you just accepting of it and you're like, this will eventually become obsolete.

Janzen: I'll build something new. I actually think it's really cool when people like make other projects that are better than mine. And I'm like, I would say I'm a pretty competitive guy, so when I see someone do something better than me I just want to Do better than what they did.

So yeah, I think it's really cool. And no, I'm not worried about it. I embraced it like steep steps. So I don't know if the game's about climbing a mountain off the ladder. Like we literally just released the mechanics for free. Like, So I'm like, whatever, let's see what other people make.

And then to the point, like all these people it like this, the lineage thing, right? Like the offshoot of, like shoot of that game was like all these two player games, these two player obby games. And I like totally missed the mark on that, right? Like I, Completely missed it did not even see this coming, and like, all of those games now are like, way more successful than Steep Steps ever was, because those people like, saw What people actually wanted to do.

David: So when you see a have you ever been in a position where you have a successful game and then you see a competitor come out that is replicating your game, but doing something differently, do you ever try to, steal, take that idea back and integrate it into your game?

How does that dynamics?

Janzen: I don't know. I've tried it before and I think it fails. I think, yeah, I've never been successful with it. Maybe a bit of design could be, but for me, like they have to do it really.

Nathan: Being exact saying I've never seen it work. I think one thing that people significantly undervalue, and probably the first folly just game developers in general have on and off roadblocks, is missing how important being the first to the market is.

That is a near insurmountable advantage that, no, it takes some serious good design or flaws in the original to overcome that. It's not that these big games that have been around for decades and on top are the best possible versions of their formula. They're not. But they were the first to do it that way, and there's no beating that.

No amount of money, no better features, no better graphics can ever overcome that. The first folly of every game dev, and I felt prey to this too when I started, was, Ah, I could just make that game but better, and then I'll get their market. No, not in the slightest. You have to do something significantly different to succeed.

And by the time you're significantly different enough to succeed, you're probably not competing with the original game. I think that's probably the most fascinating thing to me is I don't think I've ever had a game that is a direct competitor to anything I've ever made. I've had games I thought were, and then I would watch them shoot up to skyrocketing numbers and realize it didn't change my numbers.

At all. Players were playing both. They might enjoy both my game and their game, but it never diminished the profits or player counts of my games. I've, just every time I'm convinced that, oh, maybe they're, they're gonna take my market share, they never do. I've never, I think just the idea of competition on Roblox is just not what you'd expect it to be, and it's counterintuitive.

Unlike most markets, we're just not in competition with each other.

David: Janzen, I'd love for you to reconcile that with what you said before, of you've seen people who have used your sort of game ideas, and then been even more successful than you. Is that, is there a nuance a nuance there that I'm missing?

Janzen: I wouldn't say they use my game ideas it's the taking like a holistic approach like, sort of like the feel and theme of the game. derivatives, if that makes sense. It's I wouldn't say, they might not even play my game and be like, I want to recreate this, I just think that the feel and theme of the game has created these derivatives that like, are the obvious path where I should have improved on my game, if that makes sense, to be successful.

Nathan: I think an important detail not to butt in on Jensen's answer is, his game's still successful. It did not kill his game to have other more successful games. He's still doing awesome, even that game in specific is still gets very high numbers.

David: Makes sense. What do you think the what about Roblox makes it so that there is less of a competitive aspect because in the broader game industry, like you do see that like when Fortnite was super successful, Apex Legends numbers went down.

And what is it about Roblox that makes it so that, there isn't that much of a competition?

Janzen: Probably game life cycles. And I think you have, long tail games that are very real Roblox. And I think you do see that in the top echelon of games. A good example, I think. Would be Boxburg compared to Brookhaven or even Brookhaven compared to Adopt Me.

I think those games do actually see quite a lot of competitiveness in market share. I don't think it drives game design decisions. I think those people at the top like don't look at the other games and think, Oh, I should be doing this. I do think you do see like in that top echelon. Yeah, I think you do see like probably some market sharing taken away.

It's like someone, it's like saying Oh, yeah, stardew Valley lost 30 percent of their players to like the Minecraft update. It's like, no, it's like in that like like medium scale, like tier, I don't think you see like the competitive market like shit.

Nathan: I think it's also worth noting that players don't play Roblox games for nearly as long as they play other games.

They're spread out much more like your average kid playing Roblox, playing like, A dozen different games in their hour long play session. I think the average play time is 12 minutes for a Roblox game. If you're doing really well, like my best game's, 20. Or if you're like super national, they have 40 people to skew the numbers, 40 minutes.

There's like your, I think it really changes the competitive landscape when they're only spending 12 minutes of the game to begin with. So they can play both games. They can play your game and 12 other games in their session and it won't get you at all. Like that just is how the nature works. They can enjoy both very easily and that just is how they enjoy the platform, which isn't really how other gaming platforms, how you consume media.

You play Fortnite. And with a group of friends you're playing for two hours of the same game. You're not switching between Apex and Fortnite. On Roblox? Yeah, I think players very much. I know players jump between three games that would otherwise be competition with mine in the same session, because they just have fun.

Janzen: It's how they consume media here. Yeah like, do you think most YouTubers are, like, worried about other YouTubers taking away boxes? That's a good point, Al. Maybe not. I don't know.

David: Yeah so You know, moving on to we'll continue to talk about LiveOps a bit. I just wanted to get a sense of like, what does a week in LiveOps look like for a game for each of you?

What are you guys doing on a week to week basis, say for Dusty Trip, Jensen, and Nathan, for the survival game? What does a week for you on those games look like?

Janzen: I think we're like in the thick of it right now. Like a week to week right now is I wake up like 3. 30 a. m.

And probably work until around 5 p. m., 7 p. m. every day. Yeah. But I didn't know this not the average week probably across my Roblox career So yeah, I do a lot of game design. I do a lot I even do a lot of programming actually and making sure people get in the stuff done that needs to be done Yeah, that's also like pretty important.

I really like programming. I really like getting my hands dirty But yeah, it does I guess you do feel like a certain Critical Mass where you have to be like a small managerial, which sucks. Yeah.

Nathan: I'd say for me uh, for like Survival Game, that was very much that to start with. The first three months of any big game's release is just 12, 8, down to 12 to 18 hour days of just this is my life now.

Nowadays, and once a game gets older, you can settle into a much slower pace of like, nowadays, there's like a We don't do weekly updates. We don't even schedule our updates anymore. I find that something people don't I find that overrated. Many developers swear to Oh, you must update every week even if it's not worth updating.

I don't find that nearly as important as most people sell it as. Usually a week of content cadence will look like. Hey, here's what I think it should be this week. Here's the team. Here's the idea work on it. This might take two weeks, three weeks to pay off like that project is. And then we usually release it on Friday.

That might be two or three weeks in between each update. Just depends.

David: So Nathan, you're, you are directing what the update's going to be and assigning the team and then following up with them to make sure they're getting it done. That's sort of what a week looks like for you.

Nathan: Janzen, sounds like you're also Usually add on to that I'm usually also Designing half of it myself, like doing the modeling and UI and such for it.

David: Do you guys use game design documents and stuff or you're not much into documentation?

Nathan: I guess that depends on your version of documentation. Every now and then, like when I'm first starting a game, I'll write up a Google doc just so everyone's on the same page of what the general feel is.

And then I will never touch the Google Doc again. And then maybe on super big games, I'll have for a survival game, there's a backlog of like, here's cool update ideas. So when I need a new idea, I'll just look at the backlog and see and pick one. But that's a pretty loose definition of a game doc.

David: But, like, all right a feature document. You're going to release a new feature. Do you put together, like, all of the mechanics for how that feature is going to work in a, in in a document? Or are you just

Janzen: I think, I think those sorts of processes and ideas are like, are important when you're at scale.

And I think most robots developers are not at scale. There's seven people working on features at dusty trip, right? Like I can call everyone and explain what I want to do. And it's like not a stretch, right? Now let's say we have 50 people working on the game, right? I think those processes start to become a lot more important.

Yeah I think like it's a lot of stuff is like a dialogue and at least at my studio, it sounds like Nathan's exactly the same. It's like a, it's like a dialogue that you just have with people, you just talk about, and we have a Trello document that you like write down specific tasks, but it's like at the end of the day it's a Roblox game, right?

If someone's having trouble, if someone needs like a speech sheet. To build like a season's pass or something. It's what do you, what do you mean? It just needs to like progress, or Oh, I want to have a new car. Like I don't need to speak out how a new car works.

Everyone knows how a car drives or. So I think I think, yeah, just because most Roblox studios are at scale.

Nathan: I think most people don't do that. If it's complicated enough that it's something that like interacts with so many systems that you need to worry about that, then I just deal with that part myself.

Then I just go I'm the one who made this game. I get how this works. I'm not assigning the task of you understanding that to anyone else. You just give me the other parts and I make that part work. There's no I, you don't offload that part.

Janzen: At least I don't. Me and maybe one other person.

Dusty's pretty unique actually. Everyone understands the back end because you can't do anything about it. It's so bad. I think I'm lucky in that regard. But in previous games, it's exactly the same thing. Really cool systems that are important. I'll just code them.

David: Generally, just a quick question on DustyTrip. When you got this game did you think about revamping the back end or you're just like, this is it and we're going to just build off of that? We thought about it.

Janzen: We thought about it. We wanted to. I think it is well On like another note and I think this was the right decision at the time.

I really like, when you redesign core games, like the back ends of games, like they always feel like slightly different. And for me, like Dusty Trip, like something about Dusty Trip, and I don't even think I could put a finger on it right now, right? Something about Dusty Trip, and I don't know if it's because it's buggy and people like trying to figure out the jank of it or something.

It works. And I don't know. What that is about Dusty Trip that works. So I actually just intentionally left a lot of the bugs in the game. Because I wasn't sure what what line do I cross where I start to lose the feel of the game. People join, They like, don't know how the hell the car works.

They finally get the car to work and they drive like a hundred meters and like some game breaking bug, some game breaking bug, glitches them out and they die. And that's terrible game design, right? I feel like it's like kind of part of the charm and I didn't want to redesign the back end and lose that, like essence of what the game was.

And it doesn't really make a lot of sense, but at the time it was just like a risk analysis that I took and something, the game's doing very well. It's still doing really well. I think it was probably the right move.

David: So while we're on the topic of Dusty Trip, we hadn't really planned this, Dusty Trip blew up over the weekend and What happened like how did do you have a sense of what led to that that huge spike in players?

Janzen: Yeah, I do actually and it wasn't intentional so i'm not going to sit here and claim i'm like some genius but so We've been doing like I would say the monetization industry has been quite aggressive, right? And the value of cars is not only the value of buying other cars It's not just like an in game currency thing.

It's like an intrinsic value to road for road bikes and I think like The cheapest car we sold was like 5. And then most cars are like 25. So with the update, I was like, Oh I'll put a Mustang that you can get free if you're there on the update release. And I didn't realize like the intrinsic value I'd created by accident of selling these cars for so much money.

And I think people really wanted the car, obviously. So yeah, that's what happened basically. I think there's just a goal. I mean, The update was really, the update is a great update, right? Like it's a new biome. This is the reason I'm putting the car out, right? Because the update is actually a great update.

So yeah. That's the answer. I think. You never know with Roblox, or game design in general,

David: Yeah, and so actually this is probably a thing for showing that I was just curious didn't have the context So this might be a good time to just transition to our last topic which is on brand activation So you met mentioned, you know, you put a Mustang car in the game like in theory that could have been It's a Mustang My god, it was a Mustang it was a Mustang And yeah, so I'm curious like, you know, Dusty Trip is a great example.

Have you thought at all about putting real brand in there and potentially monetizing further with the use of that sort of brand advertising component?

Janzen: I think the answer is yes. I think Dusty is probably arguably one of the biggest driving games in the world right now. Yeah. Yeah.

You've thought about it, but that's about as far as you've gone? Johnny Johnny Doobie. He's like 40 percent of the game, and I think he's a little more active in that space.

Nathan: I’ve done it before. We've done like brand integrations into our existing games where we like, popular musicians or brands will come to us to put things in the game.

The short answer is that being good at game design just pays so much better than putting things in the game. Even the biggest brands they're not shelling out millions of dollars for these things. They're trying to get good deals on, how to put an ad in. They're pricing it the same as if they're gonna run an ad on YouTube.

Some of them are okay deals, but literally just spending the time to do a good content update or make a good new game pays just too little. It's so much better than putting, I won't mention any brand names any brand into the game. It just eventually just became not worth it. It's just like the effort of, Oh, okay.

It's like a two month process to talk through, sell them on it, negotiate through it, sign contracts, get them to approve for their very specific, they don't want their brand misrepresented. It's like a huge amount of effort for even the most generous of brands. You could just do better by just being good at game design.

So we just don't anymore. I know that's an unsatisfying answer, but

David: We had Chen Cheng from Century Games on the podcast, and he let us know that 50 percent of Livetopia's revenue comes from brand activation.

Nathan: So And that does make sense, especially because Lifetopia is a roleplay game, which inherently has significantly less monetization than your average game, which is awesome.

I'm so glad that works for them. I think that plays back to one of your original questions, which is like, how do you decide what's worth it for an individual game? Yeah, that type of game, being that much less monetized per user, would be perfect for a brand integration to make up for that.

Janzen: I would say that, I think the right brand integration is like, should be easy for everyone.

Yeah, maybe Nathan's had some shitters. We don't, I can't talk about it on this recording, but there have been some fun ones. No, yeah I've actually built a game for brands as well. Same. And one of them did really well, Sesame Street. In fact, it was like, I think it's like the biggest single player game on Roblox.

And then also I did one of the biggest brand games on Roblox. And then also like probably the biggest educational game on Roblox. Like it's a fully like STEM learning, like equivalent game. And like those guys are amazing to work with. Because to sound super arrogant. Like they listened to me basically and then I built other games of brands and had very constrained like guidelines and the game was awful and I've never done it again.

So now when brands reach out to me, I'm like, yeah, like I'll build you a game. But what I'm good at is make games of Roblox and you're on board that then I'm not bought that.

David: I am, I think we, we said that a number of times I've said it on my channels of you really need to work with game designers who are from the platform.

If you're going to maximize your reach as a brand. And I think that speaks to your success with Cecily street, which has 47 million visits, which is unheard of for a branded experience. There are experiences that have been around for a couple of years that have had more than that, but.

It's quite substantial.

Janzen: And it's single player, right? Like it's there's no single player game. And single player. But I mean, those guys are, like, they're amazing. I actually learned so much from them. They've got great game designers too. Yeah, like their process was like, and to be fair uh, to give credit where credit's due, Matt Forex actually really spearheaded that project and I think created Really did create while successful.

I made like a really terrible prototype that they were like, yeah, we could make a game from this. So then man actually made like the reason it existed.

David: All right. We're going to do a lightning round to close out the podcast. So I'm just going to go through these questions real quick. Give me like.

Your 15 20 second response on each. So what do you think Roblox's biggest risk as a platform is?

Janzen: I think Roblox, I don't think UFEN is a risk to Roblox. I don't think any platforms right now an immediate risk to Roblox. I think maybe platform direction could be a risk to Roblox.

Nathan: Yeah. I think Roblox is the only risk to Roblox. The only one who can dethrone them is if they make poor enough choices, and I don't think they will.

David: Awesome. To that end, next question. What is one thing Roblox does really well and one thing that they do really poorly?

Janzen: You're asking the wrong guy to complain.

Yeah, Roblox does really well serving games, right? Like user acquisition on Roblox is like the best in the world. Like you're not going to get that on any other platform. One thing they do poorly,

Nathan: I don't know. My answer would be the same as Jendel's for what they do well, but I guess to mix it up so that they're not the same answer.

Roblox is fantastic with performance. You can play Roblox on devices and in countries that you can't play any other devices, any other kinds of games on, and that's why they dominate the world without competition. They're incredible at that. What they do poorly? That's a hard thing to answer because Roblox is good about if they do something poorly, they still let the market decide whether or not that will matter.

That's Like they do, they make plenty of bad decisions. Like they're a corporation, they make tons of bad decisions, but because it's still up to the player, what they play and whether the developer, what they develop, those just don't matter. Generally, if an update is bad, if they release a poor feature that does poorly, no one uses it, no one plays it, it gets forgotten.

And so only the good ones ever surface. So I guess the answer would be, it doesn't matter what their worst thing is. It just. Yeah.

David: All right, next question. Do you guys think about making games on other platforms ever?

Nathan: Yeah, and I do. I've got a division on Fortnite. UAFN. Oh, nice. It sucks.

Janzen: Yeah, I think about, of course, right? That's like asking a YouTuber if they ever think about making boobies. I'm sure they do. But yeah, I don't think there's, I don't think I've ever thought about it and then actually thought about acting on it. I think for me, at least, Roblox, it's like awesome.

David: And then last question, who is the person you most depend on today to

Janzen: San , he's like my producer, but he's pretty much the CEO.

Nathan: Yeah. I have unfortunately built a business where I don't have anyone I would rely on. I just have to do it myself.

Janzen: I hope to change that someday.

Nathan: I, you don't know how much I desperately while what you have in the people you work with.

They're so good. You're incredible yourself, but like the team you've surrounded with yourself with, man, it is incredible. You guys, I'm very lucky. Yeah. I feel like very lucky.

Janzen: And to think they all work for free.

David: If people want to follow you guys, like what's the best, what's the best channel for them to follow you on? I have a

Nathan: YouTube called simple games that

Janzen: you can watch some tutorials I make sometimes, I guess. yeah, actually Nathan has a great YouTube and I like watching Nathan's YouTube because I think it's a good insight.

Like Nathan has a really good insight into actually like actionables on game design. Like people ask me like, Oh, what can you do to make a game? I'll be like, Oh, just make one. Nathan will actually break down the process. Yeah, it's like his YouTube is really good. You're too nice, man! Goddammit!

David: I also concur.

I watched one of the videos. I wasn't sure if you were going to bring in the personality that you do on those videos into the podcast today. It would have been welcome for the record.

Janzen: That takes, you know how many cuts that takes to not for H?

David: Janzen, what's the best way for people to follow you?

Janzen: Twitter or something. I don't well, LinkedIn,

David: We'll put the, we'll put the link in the show notes. That is a flex. Nathan Janzen, it's been awesome to have you on the podcast. Thanks for stopping by.

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